For months, media giants had been ambiguous as to when their online music subscription services would launch. But in a recent flurry, these services streamed across the Internet with much fanfare. First out of the gates with its paid subscription music service was Listen.com's Rhapsody. The service offers users unlimited access to commercial-free Internet radio programming and on-demand music from indie labels for a flat, monthly fee. Literally the next day, RealNetworks unplugged its RealOne Music service. For $9.95 a month, users can listen to over 100,000 tracks — which is limited to 100 downloads and 100 streams a month — licensed from MusicNet (the joint venture between RealNetworks and record label owners AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI Group). Like Rhapsody, RealOne Music's files can't be copied to portable MP3 players or burned onto CDs, though Roxio's CD-burning technology will be bundled as a plug-in with the new RealOne player. America Online released its own beta version of MusicNet one week after RealNetworks released its pay-for-play service. The beta version offers the same “features” as RealOne.
Pressplay went online one week later. It will eventually be offered through MP3.com and other affiliates. However, the launches do not mean that all is well on the legal front. Once again, many artists say that no one is asking the musicians whether they want their songs to be included. In early December, attorneys for dozens of angry artists began preparing cease-and-desist orders that would bar the use of their songs on MusicNet.
The name of this game, it seems, is how to find the balance between the consumers' desires and copyright holders. I guess we'll wait for the market research to come back.
And, once again, Napster was back in federal court, but this time in Pasadena, Calif. The disabled service and the record industry squared off again to idle over the finer points of enforcing the court-ordered restrictions on Napster. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from the two sides on how to share the burden in policing Napster to prevent copyrighted material from being illegally exchanged. The court did not indicate when it might rule on the issue.
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